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Johnny Manziel: The Superman to Save Cleveland?

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It was at Glenville high school in Cleveland, Ohio where Joe Shuster first met Jerry Siegel in 1933 and created a bald, villainous, mad man with telepathic superpowers bent on taking over the world named “The Superman.”

The dynamic duo of Shuster and Siegel went on to write and publish their first story entitled “The Reign of the Superman” in Science Fiction #3 (a fanzine they also produced while in high school). And although the character had a more striking resemblance to the lecherous Lex Luthor, it was (obviously) the catalyst for the character that would ultimately be known around the world as “Superman” to this very day.

amanzielBoth Joe Shuster (the artist) and Jerry Siegel (the writer) were the children of Jewish immigrants who started creating and selling comic strips as a means of survival in Depression-era Cleveland. Superman’s home city of Metropolis, however, was not fashioned after Cleveland but rather Toronto (where Shuster delivered newspapers as a boy for the The Toronto Daily Star and became the inspiration for The Daily Planet – the workaday cubicle hub of Clark Kent).

Shuster and Siegel later retooled and tweaked their conceptualization of Superman and eventually sold him to National Allied Publications (the predecessor to DC Comics) where he then landed on the cover of Action Comics #1 in 1938. In exchange for signing a meager rookie contract of $130, Shuster and Siegel were later permitted to create content for the next 10 years based on their character from Krypton.

The mythology of Superman has grown over time, been resurrected more than once in the comics, and glamorized by those in the Hollywood movie industry for more wealth than even Lex Luthor could imagine. Who would have ever dreamed that two young men working out of a house in 1930’s Cleveland could have created such a power broker character in the pantheon of pop culture?

Now let’s flash forward a few comic panels to the modern day, where a young hero from another world has been transported by rocket ship and adopted as their own by the inhabitants of a small Midwestern town. Except this hero is not from the planet Krypton and his rocket ship is actually a private jet owned by the Cleveland Browns organization. This supposed “hero” is Johnny Manziel.

Is he faster than a speeding bullet? Well, Manziel broke numerous NCAA Division I and SEC records and “Johnny Football” was the first college freshman and the fifth player in NCAA history to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a single season.

Is he more powerful than a locomotive? At the end of his first season in college, the kid from Tyler, Texas became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy (along with the Manning Award and the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award) which also included leading his school (Texas A&M) to a 41-13 victory over Oklahoma in the 2013 Cotton Bowl.

Is he able to leap tall buildings in a single bound? This is a tough one: Can he leap tall buildings and linebackers? At his NFL combine height of 5 feet 11 3/4 inches, probably not, but Johnny Football has been known to scramble around them on more than one occasion with Brett Favre-like precision.

Let’s be honest here. All his scrambling ability did not help Johnny Football in the least when it came to leaping over the other 21 picks in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Some would argue, however, that Manziel used his X-ray vision to spot his name up on the draft board from inside the war room of the Cleveland Browns (and that initiated his now infamous text message to “Hurry up and draft me because I want to be there. Let’s wreck this league together”). Whatever the Bizarro circumstances, albeit brash and bold, it was probably not one of Johnny Manziel’s finest moments.

So now we have the Superboy from Smallville (that kid from College Station) who has crash landed in a post-industrial Metropolis weary for a sports hero of any size, shape or stature. But does the city of Cleveland actually need saving from a college quarterback with a cannon arm and a certain Hollywood disposition not entirely suited for the American Splendor of a blue collar town?

Cleveland has a lot of pride and the people of this rock and roll city know exactly who they are and what they have to offer to any and all visitors from another planet: A thriving theater district, a world-class orchestra, the finest museums, and an arts and music scene that are only matched by some of the greatest culinary offerings this side of Gotham City (and, admittedly so, like any other mid-sized metropolitan city, Cleveland has their fair share of “Lex Luthors” too).

So can Johnny Manziel truly be expected to save a long-suffering sports town like Cleveland? Can Clevelanders really hang their hopes on a young man from College Station the next time some Joker (or Brainiac) makes a plum joke about their historic burning river or that “mistake by the lake” on late night television?

Well, the city of Cleveland turned that burning river into one fine tasting beer, so here’s to making lemonades out of lemons, Great Lakes Brewing Co. (and the citizens retrieved their brown and orange colors from the clutches of the ruthless businessman who tore the very heart out of the city in 1995 without any hero on the scene).

Superman cared about the city of Metropolis, and the door swung both ways with those citizens. And at the end of a working day, the adopted son of Krypton, Kal-El, was a beacon of hope in a time where one new disaster was only another meteor shower, a Phantom Zone breakout, or a nickel beer night away.

It is also advised to note that both Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster died virtually penniless and spurned by their own creation (in a roundabout way) after selling away most of their rights to DC Comics. But perhaps that’s a cautionary tale for another time and place.

In the meantime, the city of Cleveland (like Metropolis) although often battered and bruised, has a lot of great things going for it that most people from another planet fail to realize or refuse to acknowledge. Yet Cleveland has nothing to apologize for and everything to offer. As far as “heroes” go, well, they come and go relatively quickly on the shores of Lake Erie.

All we can really hope for (as icons go) is that Manziel is more like Kal-El at the end of a draft day.

Photo Credit: Akron Beacon Journal

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About Chris McVetta

Chris McVetta is a writer and comedian from Cleveland, Ohio. He is a graduate from Cleveland State University and an alumni of The Second City comedy writing program. His first job in journalism was as an Editorial Assistant working with Harvey Pekar ("American Splendor") at The Free Times. Most recently, his was invited to speak at the Ray Browne conference on Pop Culture at Bowling Green State University.